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Ted Edwards, the taxonomist, on Australian moths and profession

Community and ForumBlogTed Edwards, the taxonomist, on Australian moths and profession

Lev Bely, 11.06.2012 20:06

Ted Edwards was so earnest in studying taxonomy that eventually appeared to be a honorary fellow of the Australian National Insect Collection and was also named on the Queen's Birthday Honours list for the services to taxonomy.

Over 50 years Ted Edwards has been studying Australian moths that are, by his own words, “enormously fascinating, astonishingly beautiful and vital to landscape health”. Australian moths do show a rich variety: there are more than 20000 species including small sun moths (Synemon plana) which are active in the daytime and saucer-size rainforest moths (Trisyntopa neossophila). The latter feign dry leaves while their caterpillars are pretty good in playing midget tree snakes when rear up in order to deter predators.

Furthermore, Australian moths turn out to be true firebrands. Edwards explains numerous moth species live in and eat dry leaf litter, raising questions about long-term impacts of controlled burns on forest ecology. “The fires kill the moths. So the question is, are we still looking at the Australian landscape through European eyes when we use these methods. Perhaps we might do better to study the role of the moths in breaking down the litter.”

He wrote over 100 works on Australian moths and made Member of the Order of Australia, for services to entomology and taxonomy and his contribution to Canberra's National Insect Collection. Edwards also helped the Australian Moths Online directory as an advocate arranging an online database of Australian moths being a part of the large volunteering team at CSIRO's (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) former entomology division.

Ted Edwards grew up on a commercial table grape vineyard in the Southern Highlands and got fascinated with butterflies and moths in the very childhood. “My parents were keenly interested in the natural environment. They had a magnificent garden, full of plants to attract native butterflies and moths. They'd also made sure they were food plants for the caterpillars, so I grew up learning about the cycle of lepidoptera life,” he said.

Having began as an agronomist, Edwards joined CSIRO in 1970 and co-authored three books on Australian moths. He seems to feel a little bit sad that there are just few remaining taxonomists in Australia. “Taxonomists are the ones who actually communicate science, by giving names to things. Anyone doubting the importance of taxonomists should cross out all nouns and pronouns in a paragraph. Do that and you're left with a jumble of words that don't make sense.”

The Canberra Times, http://www.canberratimes.com.au

Photo: Ted Edwards and Northern Queensland moths Trisyntopa neossophila, Stuart Walmsley

Largest Australian Hercules moth Coscinocera hercules

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